The yo-yo girls

They veer visibly from sylph-slim to positively Ruben-esque, never happy with their shape. Clare Seeber knows how they feel

London Fashion Week 1997. Women nation-wide cheer as curvaceous Sophie Dahl, our first size 14 "supermodel", undulates down the catwalk. She overshadows Kate Moss - literally. The media love her - she is one of a kind. Oh, how we applauded her, standing in the aisles with sheer relief to herald our saviour. For the first time since Rubens, us girls are allowed to be fat. (Not that Sophie was even particularly big, but still - it was a start). British Vogue even run a fashion spread featuring model Sarah, 16 plus and proud of it, not unlike a Beryl Cook poster, with expanses of white porcelain flesh and glistening red smile. But alas, Sophie's psyche obviously works in similar ways to the rest of us yo-yo girls. By this summer, she has employed a personal trainer to "elongate her muscles" and she is fighting flab furiously, down to a size 12 and ever more sylph-like. She was only a token and she is deserting ranks.

Modern women spurn the word "diet". But that doesn't mean they don't cling to the idea that weight is something that could - and perhaps should - be controlled. In place of diets are "discipline", "healthy eating", "low-fat regimes" and punishing sessions at the gym. Such women see nothing strange in the fact that, over just a few months, their body weight might vary by as much as a stone. For women in the public eye, these fluctuations are plain for all to see: witness the yo-yoing forms of Kate Winslet, Kirstie Alley and Oprah Winfrey, as well as Dahl.

I know how they feel. I have a thin self and a fat self. My fat self is warm, cuddly and loveable, happily shovelling in apple crumble and roast potatoes, surrounded by a Ready Brek fuzz of contentment. My thin self is spiky and uptight, chain-smoking and more concerned with what others think of me than how I feel about myself.

Happily eating one day, the next heralds doom as my trousers warn I have gone too far. Waistbands are surreptitiously unbuttoned and I have to cover my bottom before leaving the house. "I love your (big) bottom," insists my boyfriend. Wise man. I hurry to the gym. I go twice in one week and feel incredibly virtuous. (Hopefully, I then put my back out so I can't return for at least a month). I eat salad like it's going out of fashion for a week and gaze longingly at Mars Bars when buying my morning paper. I drink black coffee instead of eating pudding, and have carrots for elevenses. But every single moment I think of food. The more I resist, the more I crave. The minute I stop this punishing regime I eat all the food I've been dreaming of, and put the pounds straight back on.

My most painful realisation was that there is rarely a meal that I don't feel guilty about - yet I love my food. I have set up a system of denial in my mind and the object of desire - food - is forbidden. So until I conquer the guilt, the yo-yo spins. Diets, we all know, just don't work - but once we start, it's very hard to stop. And it's where the trouble begins.

How many women like myself have surreptitiously scanned the many column inches heralding Xenical, the new anti-fat drug now coming to Britain? Yes, we know it's meant not for us but for the seriously obese. But which yo-yo girl, immersed in her own appetite-skewing logic, has not dreamed of being able to down unlimited amounts of fatty foods without having to bear the consequences?

At the age of 10 I would watch my mother weigh out her breakfast cereal to the nearest ounce. At dinner time, during her diets, she would count her every potato. Only on Saturdays were my sisters and I allowed sweets. At 12, with lunch money in my pocket for the first time, I would spend every penny on chocolate in the corner shop before I hit the school playground - and then starve through the lunch hour. I piled on pounds of puppy fat. At 15 I would read fashion magazines and gaze at skinny models.

So at 21 and finally, oh joyous day, underweight, when I would smoke 20 cigarettes and stand wistfully in front of my empty fridge, there was a very great element of control involved. If I was thin, which surely was meant to be, I would also be very happy. So I would eat seldom and very slowly. I would drink five cans of Diet Coke a day, filling up with fizz to prevent hunger. At meal-times I pushed my food around my plate until it became a scrappy mess and friends would scold me for being picky. But crucially, I could wear hot-pants to a club and not worry about my cellulite. Never mind that I was under-nourished, I was skinny. At 24, I rewarded myself for being so thin by eating all the food I had deprived myself of in the last three years. I comforted myself with food, I punished myself with food. I am a woman, I am emotional and therefore food, like sex, is intrinsically linked to my emotional well-being. A regime was born and as the yo-yo bounced, my self-esteem went with it.

Why do we equate happiness with being slim? The latest television icon is the positively twig-like Ally McBeal. At the Emmy awards last week Callista Flockhart, who plays Ally, was photographed in shimmering white. With scraped-back hair and big round eyes she looked ill - not supermodel, but super-alien. She is so thin we are scared she will snap, and she is not typical - yet she obviously feels that her her new cult status demands this. We are trapped in a vicious circle of contradictory images and it takes a strong woman to know her own mind.

Lisa Colles, author of Fat: Exploding the Myths (Carlton pounds 6.99), written to accompany the current ITV series Fat, points out that "whilst the Nineties have the thinnest beauty ideal ever and there is huge pressure to conform, we also live in a world where food is ever more accessible and people do less and less exercise."

Only five per cent of the female population are predisposed to have the current model shape, and models today are 23 per cent thinner than the average woman. So how dare the press carp about actress Kate Winslet's fluctuating weight? It must be the gratification of seeing the filmstar as real woman too, imperfect and not infallible. Rather than celebrate her size, we scorn her for her upwardly mobile dress-size at the premiere of her latest film - whilst secretly starving ourselves. Although not exactly Titanic (note that the size of increasingly large male star Leonardo di Caprio goes totally ignored), Kate was then reported to have put herself on a Brussels sprout diet. Thank god the girl saw sense - last week showed Kate in full swimsuited glory, romping in the waves with her boyfriend, voluptuous (a much nicer word than thin) and obviously happy. The key, perhaps, to this yo-yo dieting - happiness does not come from a dress size, but from ourselves.

Step forward Mia Tyler. Little but larger sister of Liv, at 19 she is making a fortune from out-size modelling. She talks of how her model mother sent her to weight-loss camp at the tender age of 12. "I lost 30lbs in six weeks... and put it all back on again... pigging out and eating ice-cream just to spite everybody." Mia yo-yoed for years until "I'd tried soup diets, bingeing, diet pills... then I realised I had to be myself". We pray she retains her integrity. Sex kitten Drew Barrymore has recently gained a few stone, and claims she has never felt happier - the question is, do we really believe her? For us up and downers, fatter naturally equals more defiant.

The downfall of the yo-yo is that what goes up must come down. However happy we are when at the upper end of our scales, something will still snap inside us. As Lisa Colles says, "until we embrace a broader ideal of beauty, women continue to aspire to unrealistic goals."

Dr Jane Ogden, senior lecturer in health psychology at King's College, London, warns that we must accept that dieting is counter-productive. "Undoubtedly our norms of aesthetic beauty are being diverted by the media. Celebrities are under pressure to maintain their image as it is constantly commented on, and as film-stars, models and even news readers look increasingly similar there is no range for 'normal' women to judge themselves against." Dr Ogden emphasises that the trick for yo-yo dieters is to realise that "you're not the only one who doesn't look like Kate Moss".

In the bestseller Bridget Jones's Diary, Bridget changes weight daily, obsessively recording it. At one point she loses half a stone and goes to a party, feeling fantastic and full of herself (if not of food). "You look absolutely terrible," comments a male friend. When my best friend told me the same thing during my thinnest period, I put it down to jealousy, because I couldn't believe that I wasn't now at my most stunning. Yo-yo dieters are also very likely to think their men prefer them thinner, but Dr Ogden quashes this theory. "Women are far more critical of themselves than their male partners are - we project our own beliefs onto the men. And remember, only one per cent of dieters maintain their weight loss."

My mother eventually gave up dieting. She simply realised that it wasn't worth constantly hating everyone else in the whole world who wasn't dieting. The minute she abandoned the diet, food no longer held the same connotations and it was no longer an emotional issue. She took up art instead and lost the weight by lugging her easel around. Personally I banned scales from my house when I gave up being very thin. What you don't know doesn't hurt you. And anyway, how can we possibly be happy when we're counting every calorie? Get off the treadmill and have a cream cake on me.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.


ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    The Green Recruitment Company: Operations Manager - Anaerobic Digestion / Biogas

    £40000 - £45000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Operation...

    SThree: Experienced Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £40000 per annum + OTE + Incentives + Benefits: SThree: Established f...

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Maintenance Person

    £7 - £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care organisation take pride in del...

    Recruitment Genius: Care Worker

    £7 - £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care organisation take pride in del...

    Day In a Page

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent